Have your say on Swindon Museum and Art Gallery’s new home

By Claire Dukes - 7 August 2018

BusinessArts and Culture

Swindon Museum and Art Gallery (SMAG) are calling on Swindon residents to help decide where the town’s art collection should be moved to.

Since the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected the £12.7 million bid to place a new Museum and Art Gallery in the town centre, trustees of SMAG are pressing forward with new ideas for an alternative site. One of the main reasons for the proposal is that the Museum and Gallery holds an extensive of collection of art and artefacts with many not able to be on display.

Still in talks with Swindon Borough Council, SMAG are now calling on residents for their opinions on determining a new site after being granted an Options Appraisal by the council. Residents keen to express their view on the matter will have three weeks to put their suggestions forward to SMAG and SBC. Once the Options Appraisal is closed to the public – 27 August - SBC and SMAG trustees will deliberate on a new outcome for the future of the Museum and Art Gallery.

Rod Hebden, director of the SMAG trust, said: “There were people who were for and against the project, and the people who were against the project largely were people who cared about heritage and want to see something happen, they just feel like they didn’t have a say on what that thing was. So, I’m saying let’s get out there and get people’s opinions.

“The commitment with the council to find a new home for the Museum and Art Gallery is still there, – we’ve got these amazing collections we’re not using well, or not being used best for Swindon – and that hasn’t gone away. It’s still a priority and the council still need to deliver it.

“We know that the funding environment has changed – the message we got from the Heritage Lottery Fund was that they just can’t fund big facilities like this anymore. We need to go back to other funders with a different solution.

“One of the things I heard very loud and clear when I first got involved with the project was that people hadn’t felt they’d been involved in actually deciding what the project was originally, and where it should be and how it should be done.

“Swindon has got this heritage of innovation, so let’s use that. And I’ve been capturing already ideas people put forward last year and over the last six months about what they think should happen next. What I’ve agreed with the council is they’re giving me an options appraisal, but they’ll allow us to go out and get as many of those ideas as possible and bring them together and have them as part of the Options Appraisal – all the things that have been suggested over the last year or so, things like the Carriage Works, things like the House of Fraser and Lydiard. We know we’re going to have to think creatively, we can’t just do what people have done in the past – we do have to do something different.”

The divide between opinions regarding the perspective site at the Wyvern Theatre car park was heavily debated since the proposals in 2017, so Mr Hebden wants to make a more proactive effort to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

He said: “We know that the current facility just isn’t fit for purpose. I got involved in the project not because of the building or because of the location or anything else like that, I got involved in the project because I believe in the power of heritage, and people’s history, and the culture to have an impact on people’s lives in Swindon.

“For me the important thing is delivering a project which gets this stuff out and people can engage with it – and that’s what will make the impact. How we do it is another story – that’s kind of what we’re debating.”

On Thursday 27 September SMAG will submit all the views presented to them to officers at Swindon Borough Council. Mr Hebden now wants to make sure that Swindon residents get their say alongside SBC and SMAG.

He added: “It’s not just ‘think of a building’, it is ‘think wider think creatively’ – ‘think new solution’. Also think about what the criteria are, because what comes out in options appraisals often is partly about how you set your criteria. Obviously, it’s got to be fundable, it’s got to be deliverable, it’s got to make sure it’s got a business plan that’s sustainable.”

For further information and to submit your views visit www.swindonmuseum.org.uk

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